The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that it will conduct an independent review of the California transit shooting case to determine whether the incident -- in which a white transit officer shot and killed an unarmed black man -- merits federal prosecution.
"The Justice Department has been closely monitoring the state's investigation and prosecution," the department said in a statement. The inquiry is being carried out by DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
Also today, the attorney for Johannes Mehserle has released a letter that the former transit police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Oscar Grant, wrote before the jury handed down its verdict.
In it, Mehserle reaches out to Grant's family and describes the moments after the shooting on the Fruitvale BART station platform on Jan.1, 2009. The ex-officer expresses remorse to both "those who hate me and those who understand that I never intended to shoot Oscar Grant."
The letter, double-spaced and written in all-capital letters, continues: "I know a daughter has lost a father and a mother has lost a son. It saddens me knowing that my actions cost Mr. Grant his life, no words can express how sorry I am."
Oakland appeared calm today after a night of racially-charged rioting followed the conviction Thursday. Scores of people were arrested.
The verdict in the case came after more than six hours of jury deliberations during the course of two days in Los Angeles, where the trial was moved because of extensive media coverage.
Prosecutors had asked that former officer Mehserle be convicted of murdering Grant, 22, who was shot once in the back as he lay face-down. But the jury's conviction on the lesser charge sparked a repeat of the rioting that followed the shooting on New Year's Day in 2009.
Police said 83 people were arrested after some protesters smashed store windows, overturned dumpsters, ignited fires and pelted officers with rocks and bottles. Officials called the troublemakers "anarchists" who came to Oakland with the intention of creating disorder after the verdict.
"For the most part, the demonstrations were peaceful," Oakland police spokeswoman Holly Joshi said this morning.
Some streets in downtown Oakland had been deserted after workers went home early and businesses boarded up windows in anticipation of trouble.
Outside one business, rioters sprayed graffiti on walls saying: "You can't shoot us all."
Windows were smashed and merchandize carried off at a Sears, a Foot Locker and other downtown businesses. A sign draped over a light post read: "Oakland says guilty."
Joshi said crowds dispersed and calm was restored around 11:30 p.m. Thursday but that police were prepared in case of more disturbances.
"We're still on rotating shifts and days off have been canceled," she said. "We're going to be on this at least through the weekend."
The victim was among a group of revelers returning from San Francisco on New Year's night 2009 who were involved in a fight on a BART train. A scuffle broke out after Grant and members of his group were pulled off the train at Oakland's Fruitvale station. Grant was on his stomach when Mehserle pulled out his gun and shot him in the back.